Billet Doux - love notes - AXIS

What can I give him? Give my heart. Are those the words? In a bleak mid-winter, the carol by Christina Rossetti with the two tunes. I prefer the old one, we both do. Giving. It isn’t straightforward. Do we always give to receive? Do we give to help another? Or is it just a passing on of something we no longer want, require or wish to have around us. Give. Give what? We talk about having a simple Christmas this year. I am intimated by stuff. I think I always have been. I am monkish. I would live even more simply than I do but cannot really impose it on another. It wouldn’t be fair. I am uncomfortable with clutter. Though there is a little girl-like being inside of me that leans towards the tiny, tiny things in boxes. I try to reason with her. The adult me prefers the pristine, the clean, the empty space – that waiting space, waiting for other possibilities. Yes, Christmas. No presents. Give but don’t receive. No thank you. I need to clear more space. Can that be my gift? Space. Empty space. Growing lighter, slipping it all off. Slipping off the weight of all the stuff.

My work is stuff. Matter. Yet again another contradiction. I need to make. To create. To form. To use my hands. Then the stuff must be framed, given authority, protection. Then what? They need homes, those thoughts of mine. They need to become part of another’s story. Mine melding with theirs. I give to share the stories. Will you hear mine if I listen to yours? Here. Have it. Do you want it? Have it. Please.

I give to become whole. I give things away to become lighter. I become lighter, I grow closer. Closer to home. Home is our things. We fill our homes with things. Gaston Bachelard writes that the ‘chief benefit of the house is to shelter daydreaming’ that ‘the house protects the daydreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace’. Yes. And the things we own, hoard, collect, muster, spark those daydreams, knit them in a cosy familiarity. This is us. These things. It can hurt to let them go. Go. Go. Go now. See how it feels.

She packs them up for me. She is sweet, a gentle woman, busy as a bee, with a purr for a voice. Off they go. Those thoughts of mine. Those things tiny in their conception winging their way to another’s home. I give them away. Do they want them? Are they wanted? I think so. And what of me? What do I want from such giving? It is complicated. The work comes alive. The work finds home. Do I? Is that what I search for? To belong in another’s life? And yet, the thought is an uncomfortable one. Either way it is an action. I need to act. It is a potent action. I need potency. I give what I have. I come alive amidst the shedding. Yes. That is enough I think.

Other thoughts? Yes. The man in the navy-blue sleeping bag still sleeping each morning in the promenade shelter. Bless you. Others? Yes, I keep thinking about Emily Dickenson and that man saying that he was glad that he didn’t live near her. She was too much. Too intense. Don’t be so intense. You are too intense, Ellen. Why so? I live intensely. I live a small life, whole-heartedly. What more can one do? Pursuing happiness. That’s what Jeanette Winterson calls it, the pursuit of happiness. Worthy of the attention of one’s whole heart, I think.

A woman talks on the phone to a radio presenter. She wants to wish her nine-year-old daughter happy birthday. How nice. They sound nice, her family. They’ve moved to Basel for her husband’s work. So brave. Two girls, nine and eleven. So brave. I would’ve liked to work abroad. To live properly abroad. (I have done so but in a borrowed way, in other people’s houses.) To set up my own home, abroad, one step removed from what I know. My own home. New. My own space for those daydreams. I have it now, but in a small way. Not wholly. Not yet. A waiting room, really. Waiting. Patiently. In love.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.